October 6, 2020 –
Turning learning into action moves the world forward. We meet many entrepreneurs with great ideas, but few bring them to life enough to make a world changing difference. Over 4 years ago we met a couple of entrepreneurs who had embarked on not just making their idea come to life in building their company, but their product was about helping other companies make their products come to life in the hands of their customers & users. Very meta!
This is the story of Skilljar, fast becoming the leading customer education platform, and its co-founders Sandi Lin, CEO and Jason Stewart, CTO, who we partnered with in 2018. Skilljar’s SaaS product helps B2B companies educate & train their customers and users with a platform built for the modern digital world and easy to both implement and use. Most importantly, it turns users into raving fans of the products they use, allowing them to do their jobs better and find fulfillment in solving their customers’ problems. With close to 300 amazing customers such as LinkedIn, Verizon, Zendesk, Slack, Zenefits, Outreach, Tableau, Asana, Qualtrics, Uhaul and close to 3 million users getting millions of hours of training, Skilljar is having a profound effect on the bottom lines of companies and becoming the “on the job” learning platform for millions of people. With the announcement of their Series B today, led by Insight Partners, our valued co-investor in companies such as Moat/Oracle and SmartRecruiters, here are some reflections of our journey together.
Building the company is as important as building the product
I believe there are two products entrepreneurs have to build to create a great business. First is their product that solves an important problem and second is the company itself. The latter is often the more complex of the two as products and markets change, and people come and go, but built to last companies have to weather through it all. On the product side, Skilljar is in a great position – it has the leading product with an incredible market opportunity, which is being accelerated by the rapid digitalization of remote-first work, and is experiencing its *Zoom moment*. But their company building efforts, especially from first-time CEO Sandi, are truly creating the foundation for Skilljar to become an iconic company.
Fundamentally, Skilljar is about unleashing the potential of bringing ideas (products) and knowledge (their value) to life (impact of products when used and used properly). It is no coincidence then that the chief protagonist of this story, Sandi, is a lifelong continuous learner who has always sought to put her learning to good use and relishes in helping others do the same. Her degrees in engineering from MIT and business from Stanford, repeat appearances on The Saas Report’s Top 50 Women Leaders in Saas list, and impact at Amazon prior to founding Skilljar, are impressive enough on their own. However, the real story of Sandi – one I have been privileged to witness first-hand – is how hungry she is to learn and become a world class CEO. She is obsessed with making Skilljar successful because the world needs it. She is scaling at warp speed as a leader, combining empathy and radical candor with an uncompromising standard for performance.
I have witnessed the company grow from 8 people to over 100 and seen not just her growth, but the growth of many individual contributors who are becoming world class managers and leaders. By building a culture deeply rooted in values, Skilljar is driving both its mission of “building the leading Customer Education Platform that enables companies to onboard, engage and retain customers at scale” and its long term vision of making learning accessible and actionable to drive positive outcomes for companies and society.
Built to last companies have transformational business models
Another attribute that many built to last companies share is a business model that drives immense value, often by changing the way an entire industry works. For example, by moving software from on prem to the cloud with its SaaS model, Salesforce.com transformed the software industry and its economics. As a result it expanded the software market, by enabling many more companies to benefit from software AND enabling end users to benefit from software, not just addressing the needs of IT.
Skilljar is not only transforming the education and training industry by rapidly digitizing it and moving it online – it is beginning to shape how companies market their products and deliver a customer experience to build lifelong customer relationships. The product is loved by training people and users, delivering a 30% increase in product adoption within 30 days and 50% acceleration in time to value, but that is only the start: stats such as 5X higher net retention for trained customer accounts and 40% increase in training related revenue are getting the attention of CMOs, CROs, CFOs and CEOs. And 30% improved internal team productivity and 30% reduction in support tickets is getting the attention of customer success leaders and other C level execs, especially as the world moves to a hybrid work environment and online training becomes the leading modality. Skilljar is enabling companies to undergo this transformation by reaching 10X-100X the number of users, often at a 10X lower cost and logistical effort (compared to offline training) and 10X less time.
I always look at the “why” of numbers and not just the “what” of numbers. By employing a SaaS playbook of getting (product market fit) PMF right, experimenting early on with GTM and having a frugal/scrappy philosophy of nailing before scaling, Sandi has been deliberate almost to a fault, but this has served Skilljar and its customers well. As a result of its foundational business model and philosophy, it is no surprise Skilljar has seen accelerating growth with best in class SaaS metrics. Since the Series A, it has grown ARR 4X, more than doubled its customer base, more than doubled its ACV, with Gross Margins, Net Retention and CAC metrics all in the top decile. And to top it off Skilljar has been very cash efficient, with more than half of its Series A cash still in the bank.
We have had the good fortune to partner with many great entrepreneurs at Mayfield, and I have had the opportunity to partner with some great SaaS entrepreneurs who created companies that became movements lifting up particular professions and individuals, a trend which we refer to as the Rise of the Individual. Marketo created a platform for marketers creating a new class and generation of digital marketing professionals; ServiceMax did so by enabling field service technicians to thrive in a cloud connected, mobile world; and Outreach is enabling salespeople to use technology to spend most of their time selling and solving their customers problems versus wasting time on tedious tasks that plague every seller in the world. Skilljar is solving a fundamental problem for the trainer who is tasked with educating users on the use of products to do their jobs well. As mundane as this sounds, the need to train people at scale to unleash their potential represents a massive opportunity and one of the biggest unsolved problems.
Between Sandi’s vision and growth as a leader, the company’s mission-driven culture, and a painkiller product, Skilljar is on the path to becoming an iconic and built to last company.